Posts Tagged With: Dodowa

A Ghana to Remember

Two weeks ago today, I said a tearful goodbye and left my beautiful Ghana behind. Now that my big adventure has come to a close, I want to make a list (more for me than for you, to be honest) of things I never want to forget about Ghana. After spending three months in Africa, there are about as many things that I dislike about Ghana as that I like. However, I want to remember some of the negative, too, as it all adds up to an incredible and irreplaceable ride. I don’t think I could ever go anywhere so different and so far from home without walking away with about 1,000 new impressions and experiences, and I want to capture some of those on…er, “paper,” I guess…before the memories fade away.

Things I want to remember about my Ghana experience, in no particular order:

  • Goats, chickens, roosters, sheep, lizards, and dogs wandering through the streets and through our front yard. Baby goats are SO darling. We also saw a toad once and a big, 6-inch black scorpion on another occasion. Rats and mice frequently showed up in Potter’s Village. The coolest lizards had orange heads and tails. The goats started to really grow on me, too; wouldn’t mind having one of them someday 🙂

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  • The red dirt that looks just like southern Utah
  • Trotros – a sort of minibus or large van run by a driver and a “mate” who takes money and directs stops. Unlike taxi cabs, the trotros have set, consistent prices no matter which one you catch, and honest mates who give the correct change. However, if there’s enough room for three people on a bench, they’ll fit four or five on it. The highest number of people I ever counted in one trotro was 29 (I think that particular trotro had 21 seats).
  • The way the trotro mates call the names of the places they’re going out the window, slurring everything together (“AccraAccraAccra” or “MadinaMadinaMadinaMadina” or “MadinaOldRoad” which sounds more like “MadinaDohDoh”)
  • Bargaining, constantly, every time we bought anything. The prices aren’t marked, forcing us to speak to the salesman/woman anytime we were interested in buying something. Inevitably, they would start with an “obruni price” that is much higher than reasonable, and we’d have to initially give an almost-offensive low price in order to reach a reasonable middle ground.
  • Fresh mangoes, pineapples, papaya (“pawpaw”), oranges, bananas, and plantains. The mangoes especially are to die for. Plantain trees were grown in the yard next door to the volunteer house, and mango trees were in our front yard.
  • The sound of the children singing. I am convinced there is no sound more beautiful on the earth.
  • Standing on my front porch, looking at the stars (when it wasn’t hazy) while brushing my teeth
  • Preachers on the trotros, in the markets, and along the streets. Occasionally a Ghanaian would get on the trotro, stand up, say a prayer, and then spend the next 30-60 minutes giving a very loud sermon – sometimes in English, and sometimes in a local dialect like Twi. Though the northern regions of Ghana have many Muslims, the sermons in my area were always Christian; I have wondered if the Muslims preach like this anyway. In the markets, they would have megaphones or speakers and walk around preaching. Then there are vans with megaphones affixed to the roof that drive up and down the streets preaching – or at least I assume they’re preaching. I never heard a van megaphone speaking in English. We also had a group of worshipers in the field behind our house at nighttime. They do a ritualistic chanting that we thought was in tongues until I finally walked close enough to make out English words. It was seriously one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard.
  • How loud Ghanaians are. We (the volunteers) determined that Ghanaians are trapped in a vicious cycle: they all talk really loud and attend really loud church services, parties, and funerals (which are sometimes all the same thing, it seems), and then they’re all going deaf, so everything has to be even louder. Competing with the noise level of the kids in the morning to tell them they had 10 minutes to leave for school was a bit of a nightmare with my quiet-ish voice. I really learned to project that tiny American voice of mine. We had one night when a funeral down the street (probably a 10-minute walk away) had festival-sized speakers playing music all night long, and we could hear the bass line the whole night from our bedroom. Our “lovely” neighbors talked so loud that it usually sounded like they were standing in our room.
  • The sunrise in the morning, which is so sudden that it seems like someone turned a light bulb on:
Sunrise in Dodowa

Sunrise in Dodowa

  • The “bathing line” in the mornings at Potter’s Village. This was anywhere from 3-12 of the smallest children, naked, and of course standing perfectly still and well-behaved as they waited for their turn 😉 Yeah, right. Bunch of little hooligans dancing around and beating each other while entirely nude. The chaos and nakedness seriously made me laugh every morning, no matter how stressful the day.
  • Flushing toilets using buckets, and putting our used toilet paper in a trash can instead of in the toilet. This caused the most culture shock for me when I returned to the U.S.
  • Burning trash along the roadside. There is litter everywhere, including in the rancid, sewage-filled gutters (I was convinced at one point that the smell of those gutters would probably seep into my clothing if I stood near one long enough. I also decided that if I ever fell into one of the gutters, I’d be on the next plane home.). Occasional signs tell you to “Keep Ghana Clean” with photos of putting litter in trash cans, but public trash cans are almost impossible to find. The locals do, however, burn their trash in big heaps. And I exhaled every time I walked past one. On a similar note, Ghanaians have no shame urinating in public. It’s very common to see “Do not urinate here” painted on the outsides of buildings and on fences.
  • The handshake with a snap at the end. As you slide your hands out of the handshake, both people snap using their middle finger and thumb on top of one another (so you’re snapping with your middle finger and thumb on either side of the other person’s middle finger, and vice versa). It’s awesome and took me a long time to make any noise. Even now, I think most of the successful handshakes made a snapping noise because of the Ghanaian I shook hands with, not because I perfected the trick.
  • The languages. When I came to Ghana, I was under the (mistaken) impression that Ghanaians know English. Though English is the official language of Ghana, only about 30% of the country speaks it. I lived relatively close to the capital, so most did know English in my area, but it’s still rarely their first choice. Most of the Ghanaians I asked said that they speak somewhere between 3 and 7 languages. Dodowa (the town I lived in) spoke Dangbe, and the children at Potter’s Village spoke Twi (which is a more common and well-known dialect). The languages are beautiful; I didn’t realize how “African” they sounded until I listened to it at home. They tend to drift in and out of English, so even when they were speaking local dialects, I could usually decipher the general topic of the conversation.
  • The attention from the men. At first, I was extremely amused by the forward, direct things the local men said to me right after meeting me – things like, “I love you” and “I will marry you.” The first guy who hit on me actually jumped on the back of my trotro as we pulled away, trying to get me to give my phone number to the mate so that he could pass it on. I was laughing so hard I didn’t even really answer him. After three months of constant attention, though, I was done with it. One time, near the end of my trip, I was alone in a trotro station, and I actually missed my trotro (it pulled away without me) because a random local guy wouldn’t let go of my shoulders. Needless to say, I was pretty ticked. Conclusion? The attention is oddly flattering, but it’s not worth the extra hassle of fighting off guys simply because I’m white.
  • Djembe drums. These are your typical African drums, and they sound SO cool. I witnessed drum performers on several occasions, almost always in touristy areas, and usually in conjunction with dancers, acrobats, and fire-throwers. I bought a small djembe drum and brought it home with me. Carved into it are two Adinkra (West African) symbols: happiness and unity. The head of the drum is goat skin, and there’s even a little goat hair around the edges of the drum head still – a constant reminder that it’s handmade.
  • The chocolate. Ghana exports cocoa, and I really love their local chocolate. I purchased it in several flavors, including lemon and orange. It doesn’t seem to melt despite the high temperatures (they sell it in the outdoor markets), and it has a really interesting consistency. It starts out kind of chalky, and then becomes creamy and smooth as you chew it. It is made using 100% genuine cocoa – no cocoa butter. Unfortunately, upon bringing some of the chocolate home, I have discovered that the desert climate I live in has made the chocolate taste very dry. I did see cocoa trees on several occasions, though the cocoa pods were never their ripe, yellow color.
  • The racism. Believe me, I know how strange this sounds, but I never want to forget it. If we define racism as being treated differently (often negatively) because of the color of one’s skin, then Ghana – my beautiful Ghana – is a racist nation. With 99% of the country being black, we stuck out like sore thumbs, and heads turned everywhere we went. Occasionally it bothered me, such as when a Ghanaian would call out, “obruni!” and then say something in a local dialect that we couldn’t understand, and then all their friends would laugh. We were often mocked or treated as if we were just plain stupid. However, despite the occasional frustrations, most of the time I took it as a learning experience, and I learned lessons that I can’t adequately put into words. I was able to tour Cape Coast Castle, formerly a British slave trade castle, and experience the humbling feeling of being in a place where such cruelty and misunderstanding took place. I saw the dungeons where the slaves were chained, the solitary confinement rooms, the beaches where they were loaded onto ships, and I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t find tears to shed. I had one occasion when all the volunteers were sitting in the back row of the trotro, and I thought of Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus. I finally understood it. I understood her. On multiple occasions, I would find myself thinking, Please just let me walk through the market without being the center of attention. Please let me be unnoticed as I walk down the street so that I can quietly live my life. I was tired of it – tired of the constant attention because of my skin color, tired of speaking to every Ghanaian man I passed, tired of being mocked, tired of being asked for money or food or my watch by people who were clearly doing fine on their own. This is a lesson that will stick with me for the rest of my life: No one should be treated differently because of something (like skin color) that they cannot control. May we all be a little more tolerant, a little more accepting, a little more loving.
  • The hissing. Ghanaians hiss to get each other’s attention. It surprised me at first, especially the first time I walked through a market and heard it constantly as they tried to get my attention. However, I accepted it as part of life and actually caught myself doing it a couple of times. It works! And it’s much better than yelling to get someone’s attention, especially in crowded places.
  • Little hands covered in food, being rubbed on my arms, legs, head, and back as small children climbed on me right after eating their meals. I’ll admit, I never really got used to this. Food hands bothered me every time, no matter how dirty I already was.
  • Washing my clothes by hand with buckets and a drying line. A small load took about 1/2 hour, and doing all my clothes (basically 8 full outfits) took about 3 1/2 hours. I never fully appreciated washing machines before this trip.
Laundry day!

Laundry day!

  • The teachers still “cane” naughty children in Ghana, and the mamas at the orphanage would occasionally cane the kids there, too. A “cane” is just a thin stick, and it seems to be about the only form of discipline that works on these children. I only personally witnessed mild beatings, thank heavens. I did, however, clean some pretty bad wounds from a beating on one child’s back – something I never thought I’d do in my life. I also saw several swollen little wrists.
  • Fishermen on the beaches. This was really cool, and I was lucky enough to see it in Cape Coast and again at Kokrobite on my last weekend. We got up to watch the sunrise, and we witnessed fishing boats heading out into the ocean, like this:
Fishing boats heading into the ocean near Cape Coast

Fishing boats heading into the ocean near Cape Coast

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Then the next thing we know, there are about 20 men lined up along each rope on the shore, pulling in the fishing nets. I watched for a long time, and never saw the nets reach the shore. I imagine that they only pull in one net per day.

Men pulling in fishing nets

Men pulling in fishing nets

  • “Potato chips,” which we call French fries (I was definitely confused the first time, though I should’ve known better) and “yam chips,” which are fried just like French fries but are made using yams instead. By “yams,” I mean white yams, not sweet potatoes. The texture is a little different than fries made from potatoes, and the taste is sweeter. I actually really liked them.
  • Roads full of potholes. This was especially evident on the 3 1/2 hour trotro ride to the Volta Region on my weekend trip to see the monkey sanctuary and Wli waterfall. Swerving back and forth across the road to avoid potholes sometimes felt like we were living the game of Mario Kart.
  • Driving without lanes, traffic lights, or crossing signals. Of course, by “driving,” I don’t mean I actually drove. I would’ve died in about two minutes flat if I’d been personally driving on those streets. It’s really quite a miracle that I didn’t see more car accidents. I also didn’t realize I’d find myself missing traffic lights and crossing signals.
  • Buying things from the trotro or taxi windows. In each trotro station, and many times as we stopped in trotros along the streets, vendors would come up (with their goods in bowls on their heads, in truly African style) and sell things to us through the windows! This came in quite handy on multiple occasions, especially buying water and other snacks on long weekend trips.
  • Drinking water from sachets. These were probably 4″ x 6″ clear plastic water bags, each containing 500mL of water. We just bit off the corner and drank straight from the sachets. Most volunteers spill at least one bag entirely at some point during their stay.
  • The walk to church, which took me about 25 minutes each way, through the streets of Dodowa. I liked this for two reasons: (1) It gave me some alone time to think, and (2) it made me appreciate the close proximity of church at home. I think church meant even more to me when it required me to put forth some extra effort to attend. I also found myself sort of counting down to Sundays when I would be able to attend again – a little safe haven where nobody called me “obruni.” 🙂
  • Shops with religious names. Though not all shops had religious names, a good portion of them did. Similar sayings can also be seen on the rear windows of trotros and taxis. I made a list of some of them, which is a pretty good representation of the typical names you’d see: Jesus is One Carpentry, Gye Nyame Butcher’s Shop (“Gye Nyame” means “accept God” or “the supremacy of God”), By His Grace Fitting Shop, God With Us Cold Store, The Lord is My Shepherd Cold Store, The Line of Judah Aluminum, JustChrist Special Tilapia Joint, God’s Shelf Aluminum and Razor Wire, No Weapon Formed Against Thee, Anointed Hand Fast Food, God Reigns Aluminum, See What God Has Done, Trinity Oil, Supreme Genesis Investments, God’s Love Ventures, Amen Driving Institute, Super Divine Video and Photo Centre
  • The brightly-colored clothing. Men and women both wear bright, patterned clothes. The basic clothing is either (1) used, western clothing bought in the markets (basically just what you’d see in thrift stores in the States) or (2) bright, Ghanaian cloth that has been purchased by the yard and then taken to a seamstress for custom-tailored clothing. I absolutely LOVE Ghanaian clothes – and I brought several dresses and skirts home with me.
  • Ghanaians know how to do funerals right. They are Friday – Sunday, 3-day “celebrations of life” – at least if the person passed away in old age. They wear matching dresses and shirts like you would see at a wedding. They also display big, professionally-made posters all over town announcing the funeral. The posters usually have a photo of the person, basic information about him/her, and the age he/she died. It’s quite the tribute. Hearses often have sirens on them so that the funeral processions can clear the road to pass through. At least twice, I saw entire roads blocked off for funeral celebrations right in the middle of the street.
  • Football (soccer). I was lucky enough to be in Ghana during the African Cup of Nations – essentially the “football” playoffs for Africa. Ghana made it to the top four and then lost in penalty kicks to Burkina Faso. It was so exciting to be there during the games. Though I only watched one game, we always knew when one was playing because we could hear, “Gooooooooooal!” being shouted from random buildings all over. The game that I watched was the semi-final against Burkina Faso, and we crammed into a dimly lit bar full of excited Ghanaians to watch it. I don’t know much about soccer, but I know which team I’ll be cheering for from here on out 🙂
  • The feeling of visiting upscale Accra Mall. I was always conflicted between being proud of Ghana for having a place that fancy, and being disgusted with Ghana for having a place that fancy. I always had a hard time convincing myself that I was still in Africa (and the first time it made me very homesick), and then I’d walk back outside and be hit by the wave of heat and humidity and the noise of the streets of Ghana.
  • The movie theatre in Accra Mall, which I only attended once, and which was so much like home that I kept expecting to walk into a familiar parking lot afterward and get into my little red Chevy Cavalier to drive home. The catch: Ghanaians clap in movies when something good happens. And then I would get snapped back to reality and my real location.
  • The feeling of being buried in small children, even on the hottest of days when I felt like I would suffocate under their body heat. It’s quite an amazing experience to walk into Potter’s Village, sit down, and immediately have 5-6 children on my lap and gathered around me. Sometimes we’d read or play little hand games or look at pictures on my camera, but often we’d just sit and talk and laugh and sing. I love those kids, and I miss their hugs every single day.

I could probably keep going, but I feel like I have sufficiently covered most of my trip. If you’re still reading this, you get five gold stars for your perseverance! Thanks for walking down memory lane with me.

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ghanaian Marching Band

Last Sunday, three fellow volunteers and I were walking back to our house through the village (Dodowa). Suddenly, I heard a trombone on the next street up. Though I’ve been playing trombone for 14 years, I dismissed it because it was so out of place. A few steps later, I heard it again, and this time I was sure. So I mentioned it, and we turned around, following the sound.

We turned the corner, and I witnessed my first Ghanaian “band,” which consisted of three trombones, two trumpets, and a handful of drums – sounds like a good ratio to me 😉 They were quite terrible, but we pulled out cameras anyway, and they stopped to play for us.

We followed the “marching band” until they arrived at a party! The next thing we know, Patricia is dancing in the middle of the Ghanaians!

Dancing

While we were watching Patricia dance, Patience asked one of the locals why they were having a party, and was informed that it was a funeral! We gate crashed a funeral! Haha. Then one of the trombonists (a girl, by the way, which is awesome) walked up behind me, and I told her I play trombone.

Suddenly I found myself with a trombone in hand, playing a duet with one of the trumpet players. I’ll admit, I didn’t play that well, but the Ghanaians loved it!

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How’s that for a random adventure in Africa?  I actually do have some videos, but I’m having compatibility issues with my tablet. I’ll post them later if I figure it out 🙂

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Akwaaba! You are welcome to Ghana

A gecko just climbed up the inside wall of my house. No joke. I think it’s so cool.

“Akwaaba” means “welcome” in Twi (pronounced more like Chwee). And I cannot even count the number of times I have heard it in the past few days. Ghanaians are beautiful, laid back, social people. They always say “You are welcome to Ghana.” I love it. They call foreigners “obruni,” so we hear that all the time, too, especially in the markets when they want us to spend money. haha. It’s not offensive at all–just cultural. They take the time to greet each other on the streets, especially in the small village I am in, and they all run on “Ghanaian time,” which can be anywhere from 10 minutes to 5 hours early or late. It’s going to take a long time to adjust to that.

The trip over here was LONG, and I was quite nauseous during my last flight (London to Accra) and for the first day and a half here. We worried a little that the sickness might be from the anti-malarial drugs, but the timing was wrong, so I think I was just exhausted. Anyway, I slept it off and am back to normal!

We (8 new volunteers) were picked up at the airport and driven to Eddie’s house for the first night (the man who owns Ghana Volunteer Corps Organization). I was in a taxi with a staff member and one other volunteer. The driving is crazy! They squeeze through tiny gaps in traffic, and there are no street signs, addresses, or even lanes on the road. They do, however, drive on the right side of the road instead of the left, which surprised me.

Accra, the capital, is HUGE. We’re going to see it officially tomorrow, and it will be very different from where I’m living now. I was assigned to an orphanage in Dodowa (pronounced doh doh WAH), which is supposedly “45 minutes” outside Accra, but I swear the drive took much longer than that. Ghanaian “time.” The orphanage, Potter’s Village, has 115 kids! The youngest is 1, the oldest is about 19. We don’t know exact birthdates for a lot of them, so ages are sort of a guessing game. Potter’s Village is so named because they are “molding” the children into successful people. The lady who runs the orphanage is Mama Jane (Jane Irina Adu), and she is a reverend, a teacher, an author, and a traveling speaker. She has made extraordinary educational/empowerment efforts among women in Africa, and she is truly amazing. She left her rich life to begin Potter’s Village because she believes it is the calling God has given her. Mama Jane is respected and loved by the children–and, I’m sure, by everyone else who knows her. 30 seconds in her presence would give anyone the impression that they are secure, safe, important, and loved.

The house I’m staying in is basically at the same poverty level as most of the village. We have two toilets and a “shower,” but all three require bringing buckets of water from huge barrels outside the house. I actually like the bucket showers. When I’m hot and sweaty (which I basically always am here), pouring water over me feels REALLY good.

Some things I’ve learned about Ghana:

  • Their mangos are delicious
  • They are VERY religious. I pass stores all the time with names like “Unbreakable Man Furniture,” “Jesus is One Carpentry” and “God’s Grace Salon”
  • Most Ghanaians speak in some mixture of Twi and English. The kids love teaching us Ghanaian slang (and we love learning it!)
  • Drinking water comes in little plastic 500 mL bags. It actually tastes really good, though the bags take a little getting used to.
  • Trotros are the cheapest way to get around. They are like big vans, and it’s a mixture between a taxi and a bus system. You basically just stand on the side of the road and get on the first one that is going to the place you want to go. It’s hot, crowded, and very cheap. And quite the experience 🙂
  • The roads have red dirt
  • Bucket “showering” feels really good but is essentially useless, since I am dirty within about 1 minute of stepping out of it.
  • There are random goats and chickens wandering all over through the streets
  • The humidity never goes away
  • They still cane children at school for misbehaving
  • They apparently don’t see white people very much. I’m quite a spectacle 🙂

So there you have it! Hello from beautiful Ghana!

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Pink is the Color of Love

I got my Ghana orphanage placement! I will be part of IVHQ’s Pink Program (the colors just designate the different programs and don’t have much significance beyond that).

My orphanage is The Potter’s Village in Dodowa in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana–about 45 minutes from the center of the capital city, Accra.

Dodowa Map

This shows where Dodowa is located within the country.

Dodowa Map

This shows the distance from Dodowa to Accra, the capital

From my placement packet: “Potter’s Village was founded by Mrs. Jane Irene Adu in 2000 with the sole aim of fighting for the rights of women and also displaced children (orphans and needy children). Potter’s Village has been the mouthpiece of many women and children for the past several years through advocacy and education programs, counseling services, health services, vocational training for young displaced girls, adult education, literacy programs, and many more. The benefit of this organization has been of tremendous help to vulnerable women and children across the country.

“Daily activities at the orphanage include getting kids organized in the morning for school, general maintenance of the home, helping cook, cleaning of bowls, helping with assignments. Volunteers normally design their own schedule as to when they will be at the orphanage and get things done with the help of older volunteers.”

I should clarify that there’s the slightest chance my placement will change once I arrive in Ghana and meet the coordinators there. But as of now, this is the plan.

I will be living about a 5-minute walk from the orphanage in what is called a volunteer house. The volunteers live together in this house, and meals are prepared by local staff. The information I received about living conditions: “The house has three rooms, a kitchen, and eating area. Rooms are shared among volunteers with bunk beds in every room… There is an inside toilet and a shower but every volunteer must get his or her own water which is located outside for use in the shower and toilet… Electricity is available but there are frequent power cuts throughout Ghana.”

One week from today, I will be on my way!

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